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Sherborn: Dickinson - Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy
 

Sherborn: Dickinson - Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy

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Ornithological nomenclature is based on the bibliographic legacy from Charles Davies Sherborn, working in the Natural History Museum, London, and from Charles Wallace Richmond, working at the ...

Ornithological nomenclature is based on the bibliographic legacy from Charles Davies Sherborn, working in the Natural History Museum, London, and from Charles Wallace Richmond, working at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Despite their significant foundations, a complete data series has not yet been achieved. Gaps in their original coverage, though few, have not been resolved. The post-1850, the end date of coverage of the Index Animalium the level of completeness declines. I will discuss the coverage of the gaps in ornithology and address the primary issues of completeness and accuracy.
Avian names in the Index Animalium have issues of accuracy in spellings, authorship and citation details. Most of the problems that can be pinpointed in ornithology will be paralleled in other zoological disciplines. Post-1850, ornithology is fortunate in the correspondence between Sherborn and Richmond. The Richmond Index to the Genera and Species of Birds, published on microfiche in 1992 and now available online, is founded on their collaboration. After Richmond, successive members of the Department of Birds at the United States National Museum were inspired and encouraged to update the resource regularly. Over the years since 1932 when Richmond died there were periods when this card index was well maintained and others when less time was devoted to it. In addition, the information available to ensure it was comprehensive is likely to have been only marginally better in respect of the Americas than was available to the Zoological Record. There has been more deliberate work done to maximise the collection of avian generic names. The initial sustaining role played by the Zoological Society of London must be recognised as regards both the Zoological Record and the Nomenclator Zoologicus of Neave. Unfortunately, ornithologists have undervalued the importance of the bedrock of information that these initiatives provide and hence they have done little or nothing collectively to maintain and complete these resources.
The rare Book Room at the NHM holds what may be all Sherborn's Index Animalium slips. They are appropriately separated, but old explanatory separators written by Sherborn are fading and the original sequences within the segments look disturbed. These need study and potentially reorganisation. For their long term preservation and wider availability scanning is recommended (after any agreed reorganisation), It is hoped that the museum, whose Trustees were publishers of the 33 volumes that cover 1801-1850, will assess the situation and if necessary seek to raise funding for these measures. Other Sherborn material should perhaps be brought together with the slip cabinet so that all material relating to the Index Animalium is together or fully cross-referenced. At the Smithsonian, the Department of Birds holds two card indexes which Richmond created to support his primary card index. These are being preserved and are accessible on site.

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  • Quote 1: “Yet I doubt that more than 20 new species of birds will be discovered in the next ten years” (Mayr, 1957: 35). This followed his review of the period 1941 to 1955 when 49 new forms were ‘pronounced’ (an average of 2.5 per year).Notes: this was not to be so: 36 were described in the first ten of those 20 years and at least 28 more in the period 1966 to 1975. Refs. Mayr. 1971 and Mayr & Vuilleumier (1983) In the five years from 1976 to 1980 at least 12 newly proposed ones were seen as valid ( Vuilleumier & Mayr, 1987) and between 1981 and 1990 another 24, of 43 proposed, were accepted (Vuilleumier, LeCroy & Mayr, 1992).The rate of perceived discovery of new species seemed nonetheless to have fallen from 6 per year i n 1938-1941 (a short sample period) to 2.4 species per year. The rate of discovery since 1990 then has apparently been broadly sustained. However in the context of general acceptance of some 9600 to 10000 species the annual rate of addition is just 0.02%
  • The advent of computers and the Internet should have made things easier and for individuals that is true. There are now very few alpha-taxonomists among professional ornithologists and there is a much reduced understanding of nomenclature and its importance.Ornithology has, perhaps understandably in the circumstances, lost a place at the table of ICZN Commissioners. The effect of this seems to have been to exacerbate the problem. Within institutions cost constraints have caused a tight focus on the identification of return on the salary costs invested. Collection managers now often lack field collection experience and thus miss out on the learning that goes with writing up a collection in the context of a research report with a consequent limitation to their involvement in alpha-taxonomy. Higher paid professional ornithologists find work in studies of behaviour, ecology and conservation and, more recently, molecular studies to which many come with strength in their understanding of the techniques that they need but weakness in their foundational knowledge in taxonomy and nomenclature.Almost none of these professionals are permitted professional time to build or maintain nomenclatural databases in ornithology.
  • All three of these concerns could be materially assisted by removing ambiguity from the Code, adding extra subsidiary Articles or adding Examples.The consequence of these concerns arising from the Code is that well-intentioned amateur compilers perceive differing answers to the same questions and can find no way to obtain case by case determinations that will be generally accepted thus there will continue to be parallel usage of differing dates, of different authors and of differing spellings.Gender agreement may or may not be part of the problem: if it is it does not appear to be hard to manage it.The development of ZooBank will do much to resolve these issues. Lists of Available Names should also contribute to greater consistency but the current situation will make validation of retrospective registration of names controversial.This is as much an opportunity to serve the zoological community by improving the Code as it is a problem.

Sherborn: Dickinson - Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy Sherborn: Dickinson - Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy Presentation Transcript

  • Reinforcing the FoundationsFilling in the Bibliographical Gaps in the Historical Legacy By Edward C Dickinson October 2011
  • OVERVIEW• What are the foundations in ornithology?
  • OVERVIEW• What are the foundations in ornithology?• What are the major gaps?
  • OVERVIEW• What are the foundations in ornithology?• What are the major gaps?• Have we actively sought to fill the gaps?
  • OVERVIEW• What are the foundations in ornithology?• What are the major gaps?• Have we actively sought to fill the gaps?• What have we done to fill them?
  • OVERVIEW• What are the foundations in ornithology?• What are the major gaps?• Have we actively sought to fill the gaps?• What have we done to fill them?• How substantial a problem do we still have?
  • What are the foundations in ornithology?
  • The Foundations in Ornithology
  • Documentation of ornithology• Our knowledge of numbers of species of birds achieved what was considered to have reached a high level of completeness by the mid 20th century.• Three very outstanding works document much of what we know but each suffers from a drawback.• Nonetheless by 1960 or so we had much of a strong if not solid and comparable foundation.
  • What are the major gaps?
  • Quantitative gaps• We generally presume near total completeness in our awareness of new names for birds prior to 1851• I believe that there have been relatively few failures to record new names from then till about 1960, but that proportionately slightly more will have been missed from 1961 to 1995.• However, the computerised databases we have are not geared to provide synonymies.
  • Some reasons• Cultural and developmental differences have played a role.• Historically almost all names were proposed in what we now term developed countries.• Politics and languages can present barriers.• Recently the fundamental problem has been a lack of vision: institutional compilation efforts have dwindled and perhaps lapsed.
  • Qualitative gaps• Inaccurate dates – e.g. citations from later texts; publishing practices; unsolved problems relating to part-works; mistaken attributions of first authorship etc.• Inaccurate authorship data• Inaccurate spellings of names
  • This is the back of a rarewrapper from an August 1821 issue of a partwork; the plates with it carried Frenchvernacular names only. Temminck provided texts only in 1823. Sherborn usually cited new names from the later text.
  • First state (June) Second state (Nov) Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1887, p. 558
  • Have we actively sought to fill them?
  • Rather sporadically!• Significant efforts up to the 1930s. – Richmond, Sherborn, Mathews and Zimmer
  • Rather sporadically!• Significant efforts up to the 1930s. – Richmond, Sherborn, Mathews and Zimmer• Since then a tight focus on listing taxa seen as valid was expressed in name-specific efforts.• Publication-focussed work has received renewed attention in the last fifteen years or so.
  • Name-specific efforts• The Peters’s Check-list volumes listed only recent synonyms (e.g. not repeating older synonymy)
  • Name-specific efforts• The Peters’s Check-list volumes listed only recent synonyms (e.g. not repeating older synonymy)• Subsequent world Checklists (e.g. those by Sibley & Monroe, Clements, and Howard & Moore) gave no authors, dates or citations (and had no synonyms)
  • Name-specific efforts• The Peters’s Check-list volumes listed only recent synonyms (e.g. not repeating older synonymy)• Subsequent world Checklists (e.g. those by Sibley & Monroe, Clements, and Howard & Moore) gave no authors, dates or citations (and had no synonyms)• The 2003 edition of Howard & Moore added authors and dates and post-Peters names including synonyms had linked citations.
  • Publication-focussed work
  • Synonym-specific work• The most complete source certainly up to the mid 20th century is the Richmond Index.
  • Synonym-specific work• The most complete source certainly up to the mid 20th century is the Richmond Index.• However this is a source only. Each card uses the original combination of the name and no subsequent combination is recorded.• No card links a synonym to a name in use.
  • Synonym-specific work• The most complete source certainly up to the mid 20th century is the Richmond Index.• However this is a source only. Each card uses the original combination of the name and no subsequent combination is recorded.• No card links a synonym to a name in use.• No hierarchical list of synonyms has yet been completed. Such lists (for genus-group names and for species-group names) are sorely needed.
  • What have we done to fill the gaps?
  • Species-group names• We guess that there may be 120,000 ± 20% avian names to be registered retrospectively in ZooBank. Perhaps 29,000 are in use for recognized taxa. Of the rest, all synonyms, perhaps another 40,000 are in held in databases. The rest have just not got there.• Causes: the diminution and eventual virtual cessation of comprehensive “card indexing”; lack of leadership; poor understanding of the gaps in the basic works.
  • Genus-group namesA similar guess suggests that some 17,000 genericnames have been proposed.While this may seem slightly bizarre at 1.7 perspecies, many will be subjective junior synonymswithin ‘species-rich’ genera, and thereforeavailable for use, following the splits required byrecent molecular studies.Currently only amateur databases.
  • Family-group namesBock (1994) tabulated a total of 276 accepted avianfamily names and another 1052 synonyms atfamily-group level. Between 1860 and 1993 only 70accepted ones were added.Since then and not least due to molecular studies asubstantial number of names has been proposed.Difficulties in locating some old works still needs tobe overcome to allow creation of a LAN that canachieve consensual support.
  • The main sources• Sherborn’s legacy: how much in the cards is not in Index Animalium? How secure are these and is there any back-up if they should be lost?• The Richmond Index: scanned, but enquiries suggest there is no claim to its having been constantly added to in full over the years, especially recently.• The “Reftax” database (MNHN, Paris): held integral citational data. Abandoned!
  • The history of collaboration• Good! Sherborn and Richmond exchanged letters and Mathews was in contact with both men.
  • The history of collaboration• Good! Sherborn and Richmond exchanged letters and Mathews was in contact with both men.• No evidence noted recently of any collective project to ensure new names in ornithology are collected.
  • The history of collaboration• Good! Sherborn and Richmond exchanged letters and Mathews was in contact with both men.• No evidence noted recently of any collective project to ensure new names in ornithology are collected.• Reliance has been placed on the Zoological Record which alone does not suffice.
  • The history of collaboration• Good! Sherborn and Richmond exchanged letters and Mathews was in contact with both men.• No evidence noted recently of any collective project to ensure new names in ornithology are collected.• Reliance has been placed on the Zoological Record which alone does not suffice.• No apparent evidence of leadership from the IOC, the BOU, the AOU, or anyone else.
  • The history of collaboration• Good! Sherborn and Richmond exchanged letters and Mathews was in contact with both men.• No evidence noted recently of any collective project to ensure new names in ornithology are collected.• Reliance has been placed on the Zoological Record which alone does not suffice.• No apparent evidence of leadership from the IOC, the BOU, the AOU, or anyone else.• Computers have brought little collaboration.
  • How substantial a problem do we still have?
  • The present situation• Very few alpha-taxonomists.
  • The present situation• Very few alpha-taxonomists.• Interest in nomenclature as a subject minimal.
  • The present situation• Very few alpha-taxonomists.• Interest in nomenclature as a subject minimal.• Key databases now “amateur efforts”.
  • The present situation• Very few alpha-taxonomists.• Interest in nomenclature as a subject minimal.• Key databases now “amateur efforts”.• Availability of time and funds modest.
  • The present situation• Very few alpha-taxonomists.• Interest in nomenclature as a subject minimal.• Key databases now “amateur efforts”.• Availability of time and funds modest.• Lack of encouragement from internationally recognised leading professionals. Mayr is missed!
  • Future collaboration• BHL shows collaboration is possible.
  • Future collaboration• BHL shows collaboration is possible.• Ornithology must embrace ZooBank.
  • Future collaboration• BHL shows collaboration is possible.• Ornithology must embrace ZooBank.• Lists of Available Names.
  • Future collaboration• BHL shows collaboration is possible.• Ornithology must embrace ZooBank.• Lists of Available Names.• Validation of ZooBank Registration (especially retrospective registration).
  • Future collaboration• BHL shows collaboration is possible.• Ornithology must embrace ZooBank.• Lists of Available Names.• Validation of ZooBank Registration (especially retrospective registration).• Without a degree of funding the quality of this will never be thoroughly reliable and will be many years in achievement.
  • Conclusions• Ornithologists’ lost the plot as regards building and maintaining nomenclators.• The advent of computers coincided with the minimalization of names but encouraged keen amateurs to step in.• Thus such work as has been done is of limited value. The quality control behind it is rarely well documented. Thus all retrospective registration of avian names in ZooBank will need to be validated from the original publication.
  • The Sherborn ‘slips’ an appeal• Without support from the NHM Sherborn would probably never have completed Part II of the Index Animalium.• Most, perhaps all, of his slips, are held in the NHM Rare Book Room. Their organisation needs careful study by one or more bibliographers and will definitely yield some new information and perhaps explanations for some curious changes in his use of dates.• The NHM is urged to arrange such study and then to determine the best option for the continued preservation of the slips and other related Sherborniana, all appropriately housed.